By DAVE ALTIMARI and DAVID OWENS, firstname.lastname@example.org
10:15 PM EDT, August 4, 2010
Five employees of Hartford Distributors Inc. tried to warn their fellow workers or physically stop Omar Thornton during his shooting spree, including a 77-year-old man who tried to run him over with a golf cart.
But Thornton shot them and others, leaving eight dead, and one man — Jerome Rosenstein, the man in the golf cart — fighting for his life.
Interviews with law enforcement sources and employees inside the building when the shooting spree began paint a picture of a man who went from calmly signing his name to a one-line resignation letter to a mass murderer who literally ran down some of his victims as they frantically tried to escape.
"He was eerily cool,'' Manchester Police Lt. Christopher Davis said Wednesday.
Teamsters Local 1035 President Bryan Cirigliano tried to stop Thornton as he opened fire on Steven Hollander, the company's chief financial officer, and Louis Felder, the director of operations, following the meeting at which Thornton resigned. But Thornton turned and shot Cirigliano in the head, killing him instantly. Felder and Cirigliano were Thornton's first victims.
Thornton chased two men — Victor James and Edwin Kennison — out of the warehouse, shooting them as they ran down the driveway. Kennison died immediately.
James was found by the first Manchester police officer on the scene, who put James on the hood of his car and drove him to a place where paramedics could treat him. James later died at Hartford Hospital.
Thornton shot Douglas Scruton from nearly 40 feet away inside the warehouse. Scruton was investigating the noise that he had heard near the office area of the 77,000-square-foot warehouse when he drove his forklift around a corner toward the loading dock, encountered Thornton and was hit by several bullets. The forklift that Scruton was driving crashed into a wall and started a fire.
Three men — James, Craig Pepin and Francis Fazio Jr. — warned fellow employees that Thornton had a gun and that they should flee. Thornton chased down all three and killed them.
Two men were shot dead in the southeast corner of the building, in what sources referred to as a beer storage room that had a smaller space known as the redemption room. Another was chased down and killed at the end of a 40-foot-wide path that ran through the heart of the warehouse.
The shooting started only seconds after a disciplinary hearing attended by Thornton, Cirigliano, Hollander and Felder ended in a corner office sometime before 7:25 a.m. Hollander and Felder had confronted Thornton with surveillance video showing Thornton twice "removing product from his delivery truck and placing it in a private vehicle," union officials said.
Thornton had even commented on the quality of the surveillance video before conferring briefly with Cirigliano and then signing the resignation letter.
"He made the rational choice under the circumstances to resign rather than be fired and have that placed on his record,'' Teamsters 1035 legal counsel Gregg Adler said. "There was nothing in his behavior at that point for anyone to be concerned for their safety.''
Thornton and Cirigliano left the room, and Thornton said he wanted to get a drink of water in the kitchen next door. When he went into the kitchen, Thornton took out two 9mm Ruger pistols from a red lunch box that he was carrying and came out shooting.
Felder was killed instantly and Hollander was shot twice. Cirigliano ran back toward Thornton, and Thornton turned and shot him point-blank, sources said.
Thornton then fired numerous rounds into other offices, skipping one occupied by a woman in a wheelchair, before going through a door into the warehouse. Police were still trying to piece together the order in which the other victims were shot, but union officials believe that after Thornton targeted Felder and Cirigliano, everyone else was chosen randomly.
"The workers shot after he entered the warehouse just happened to be working outside the warehouse door when Omar opened it," Adler said. "To say that he went out into the warehouse and looked for specific people to shoot just isn't true.''
Both James and Kennison tried to escape out a door on the southwest side of the building, but Thornton chased them down in the parking lot. Hollander, who was injured, described the chase as he called 911 at 7:25 a.m.
"I need the cops here at Hartford Distributors right away. Omar Thornton is shooting people; I just got shot,'' Hollander told the dispatcher.
Hollander then told the dispatcher that he had just fired Thornton.
"Today, just now, before he started shooting. He's chasing people out in the parking lot now,'' Hollander said.
Thornton re-entered the building by blasting his way through the glass at the front door to the offices.
Another caller to 911 told dispatchers that Thornton was going back into the building about 7:27 a.m. Within a minute, the first police officer arrived on the scene and found James lying on the pavement.
It is unclear if Thornton re-entered the warehouse after that and shot more people or if the spree was over. Many employees had run out a back door into the woods, while others were hiding behind pallets of beer or under desks in the building.
Thornton eventually went back into the office area as police arrived and called his mother. Family members said he told her that he had shot the racists who had been bothering him. He told her that the police were coming and that he was going to take care of it.
Police found Thornton in a southwest corner office, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, his two guns by his side. Davis said that police were still trying to determine how many rounds he fired.
The medical examiner said Wednesday that all of the victims had been shot multiple times. Manchester police said the guns were legally registered to Thornton, who had a valid pistol permit, and had been purchased at an East Windsor gun shop. Police found a shotgun in his car in the parking lot, although it had not been used.
Union officials adamantly denied the claims by Thornton's family that he was racially discriminated against at work. Adler said that Thornton never filed a complaint with union officials. Manchester police said they found no evidence that anyone had drawn nooses or scrawled racial epithets on restroom walls.
But Thornton's girlfriend and family members insisted that he took pictures on his cellphone of the racist graffiti and tried to bring it to union officials' attention but was ignored.
Christopher Roos, Teamsters 1035 business agent, said that union officials had actually helped Thornton get a better job as a driver about a year ago. Roos said that Thornton had complained that he was working in the warehouse, which was a much harder job than being a driver.
Roos said he explained to Thornton that he was the "low man" in terms of seniority and had to wait his turn.
"He moved up the seniority list," Roos said, "and a position came open about a year ago."
As he sat in his office late Wednesday afternoon, the first of what will be many memorial services ahead of him, a clearly drained Roos reflected on Tuesday's horror and how several of his members died trying to save others.
"They were all trying to get the other guys out of the building,'' Roos said of James, Fazio and Pepin. "Those guys are heroes.''
Roos also thought for a moment about Thornton.
"He's a coward," Roos said.
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